Syngenta Patents Melons with a Pleasant Taste. Consumers Reject Patents on Foodstuffs

Bern, Zurich, 27.07.2011 - The European Patent Office awarded Syngenta a patent on melons „with a pleasant taste“, after an opposition filed by another seed company to revoke the patent had been rejected. According to a poll among Swiss consumers a majority of respondents reject such patents as well as the food products they protect.

Non-governmental organizations, farmers’ organizations, breeder associations, and governments have raised objections against the patenting of crop plants for years. Patents monopolize food markets and rob breeders and growers of their freedom to use plant materials for breeding, thus crippling innovation and food security in the long run. With more and more patents awarded for conventionally bred plants, as well, this has become a very problematic issue with far reaching impact in recent years.

Only Monsanto and DuPont are seeking more patents on conventional crops than Syngenta. One particularly controversial Syngenta patent was confirmed in April, after an opposition to revoke it had been rejected. It is the first European patent protecting a conventionally bred plant for its taste. In the patent application (EP1587933) the taste of the melon is described as „tart-refreshing-sour-sweet“. With this patent Syngenta claims intellectual ownership of all melons with a certain citric acid and sugar content as well as a specific pH-value, including everything from the plant and seeds to the pulp and its uses. The „invention“ is the result of common breeding and selection techniques (no genetic engineering), using, as source materials, among others, melons of Indian origin.

Swiss consumers are highly critical of patents on food crops. According to a recent opinion-poll two thirds generally oppose the patenting of food crops. 68% would like patented fruit and vegetables in stores clearly labeled as such and nearly 50% would refrain from buying these products. But buyers cannot vote-with-their-wallet today because patented fruit and vegetables are not recognizable as such.

No-patents-on-seeds calls for a ban on patents for food crops. We urge retailers to refuse patented fruits and vegetables to be marketed in their shelves.